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Gregory La Cava
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On behalf of your commanding officer I'm sure I can tell Mr. Jose Iturbi that the officers and crew of ship are grateful to him for coming here, to lead our naval bands in this ceremony.
Along with every other civilian, it is I who am grateful to you, and to all the men in the United States navy.
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In the Citadel film series book The Films of Gene Kelly, Anchors Aweigh is described as a kingpin of a musical. I sure can't do better than that. It's such an important film in both the careers of Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. Kathryn Grayson didn't do too badly with this either.
Louis B. Mayer had lent Gene Kelly out to Columbia where Harry Cohn had an inspiration to let Kelly choreograph his own numbers and because of it, Cover Girl became a classic. So if Mayer didn't learn a lesson, producer Joe Pasternak did and allowed Kelly artistic control. When Anchors Aweigh was finished, Fred Astaire at last had a dancing rival for monarch of cinema dance.
The main number everyone talks about with Gene Kelly here is the dance with Jerry Mouse. Originally Kelly wanted to do the number with Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse, but Disney wasn't lending Mickey out to nobody. Mickey would have to wait until Who Framed Roger Rabbit to do an outside film. Not to worry because MGM had it's own animated rodent one half the team of Tom and Jerry.
Kelly as dancer always strived to do something new and different on screen as did Fred Astaire. For the next dozen years, these two were allowed all kinds of artistic control and were praised for their work even if the films themselves weren't up to snuff. It was like each inspired the other to bigger and better creativity, Kelly for MGM, Astaire for MGM and any number of other studios. In Anchors Aweigh, Kelly got Sinatra to dance a bit. In fact Frank Sinatra always gave credit to Gene Kelly for showing him how musicals should be done as he gave credit to both Burt Lancaster and Montgomery Clift for their help in earning him is Oscar for From Here to Eternity.
When Frank Sinatra had half of his contract bought from RKO by MGM he insisted on a little artistic creativity on his own. He'd become friends with the songwriting team of Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn. In his autobiography Sammy Cahn tells about how Sinatra insisted that they write his songs for this film. Louis B. Mayer gave in and the team wrote some really fine ballads for him to sing. One of my favorite Sinatra numbers comes from Anchors Aweigh, I Fall in Love Too Easily. Frank sings it accompanying himself on the piano at an empty Hollywood Bowl. It's Sinatra at his best.
With Jule Styne and later with Jimmy Van Heusen, Sammy Cahn richly earned the title of having put more song lyrics in Frank Sinatra's mouth than any other person. They were lifetime friends and Cahn always credited Sinatra with this milestone boost in his career.
On a bet Styne and Cahn said they could write a song just using a chromatic scale. They proved it in Anchors Aweigh when Kathryn Grayson put her soprano to work on All of a Sudden My Heart Sings. She also did some classical numbers.
Here singing in fact is the basis of the plot. Two sailors on leave through a combination of circumstances meet up with Kathryn Grayson and her orphaned nephew Dean Stockwell. Trying to fix her up with Sinatra, Kelly says he can get her an audition with Jose Iturbi. They spend the film trying to accomplish just that.
My only disappointment in Anchors Aweigh was that Pamela Britton, who plays the waitress 'Brooklyn' never got a number herself. She had gotten rave reviews from her performance as Meg Brockie in Brigadoon on Broadway and that's what brought her to Hollywood. I have a suspicion she had a number that was cut and somewhere in MGM's vaults it might still be.
Anchors Aweigh is a great example of why musicals just aren't made any more. All that creative talent was under contract to Metro-Goldwyn- Mayer. If you had to pay market value for it, the cost might retire some third world country's debt.
But the film results would be extraordinary.
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